Archive for the ‘sexual repression’ Category

Oral Sex: You Said A Mouthful

March 3, 2016

Before the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, there was a joke popular in New York nightclubs. What do eggs benedict and a blowjob have in common? They’re two enjoyable things you don’t get at home.

Yes, kids, there was a time when oral sex was exotic, primarily the province of prostitutes and gay people. Well, times have changed.

In the 1994 “Sex in America” national study, Ed Laumann and colleagues 3,432 American adults. They found that about a quarter of their sample had had oral sex in the past year. Today, depending on the study, it appears that over half of adults who have partner sex are having oral sex at least occasionally.

My patients have a wide range of feelings about oral sex. The most common include:

* I love it, what’s the problem?
* I like it, and feel self-conscious enjoying it
* I don’t mind doing it, I wonder if I’m good at it
* I don’t mind doing it, but why do some people love doing it?
* It’s creepy. Mouths don’t belong down there
* I don’t see what anyone enjoys about that

Making things more difficult, the common English expressions “to give” and “to receive” oral sex are way too limited. It’s true, in some couples one is giving (and not enjoying) and other is receiving (and enjoying, or wanting to enjoy). But in many couples, both partners are enjoying it equally, regardless of whose mouth and whose genitalia are involved (and of course in situations often called 69, all are involved at the same time).

So why the complicated feelings about oral sex?

* Religious taboos against non-reproductive sex;
* Personal “ick” factor;
* Confusion about why someone else would want their mouth “there”;
* Cultural norms about “who does that” (i.e., not “nice people like me”);
* Situations in which A wants B to go down on A, but A won’t go down on B;
* Situations in which A says to B, “I’m willing to go down on you, so you have to go down on me.”

Frankly, some of these feelings are about oral sex, while others are about something else (like power or trust or body image).

As a therapist, it’s not my place to encourage people to do oral sex. (In fact, while most patients like to get advice, most patients don’t want to be told what to do.) However, as with decisions about almost anything, it is my place to encourage people to talk about how they decide what to do, what their beliefs are about who does what, and whether they want to examine beliefs they acquired long ago.

For example, some women whose partners suggest cunnilingus (he goes down on her) refuse simply because they don’t feel clean “down there”—even after a shower. “I just can’t help how I feel,” they report. Or “I don’t know why anyone would want to do that. He says he enjoys it, but I just can’t believe it.”

The world won’t come to an end if her vulva doesn’t get licked (especially if she enjoys other kinds of sex), but why would a person hold on to a funny belief like that? I generally think there’s something else going on (like feeling her femininity is somehow dirty or deficient, or not wanting to feel too vulnerable), so it’s my job to help her chase that down—if she wants to. Sometimes she’s willing, sometimes not.

Then there are guys who expect blowjobs like it’s their right–big mistake. Or expect some majestic, theatrical, biologically unlikely Deep Throat–big mistake. Or who assume that every woman wants a guy coming in her mouth, or on her face–big mistake. Or who feel insulted if a woman spits the stuff out instead of swallowing it–big mistake. What’s with these guys?

“Too much porn” is not an answer. A lack of manners, or empathy, or communication, or appreciation is more like it. Guys, if you’re not taking your behavioral lessons from NASCAR, Star Wars, or Wrestlemania, don’t take it from porn, either.

Most people don’t know that legally, “sodomy” includes oral sex, and of course various states had criminalized sodomy for centuries. Those laws were endorsed by the 1986 Supreme Court decision Bowers v. Hardwick, eventually overturned in 2003 by Lawrence v. Texas. In both cases, laws criminalizing male-male anal sex was at issue. Heterosexual oral sex just came along for the ride, so to speak.

So is oral sex “sex”? If you haven’t had intercourse but have had oral sex, are you a “virgin?” Is a blowjob “infidelity”? Which is more “intimate,” intercourse or oral sex?

I am asked each of these questions many times every year, whether by patients, lecture audiences, or email inquiry. The answer to all of them is the same—it all depends on what you mean. All of these terms are socially defined; every culture in every era has its own answers, and every person adapts these answers to fit their own circumstances (whether of passion, guilt, or need to follow authority).

At the end of the day, oral sex is just one more way that people align their bodies with each other, or their hearts with each, often leading to wonderful pleasure for both people. For others it’s a way to prevent pregnancy, or to deal with pressure, or to feel grownup, or to make a buck, or to dance with taboos. It doesn’t matter if you do it or not; the reasons for your decision matter way more than your decision.

Rule 34: What It Says About Your Sexuality

February 23, 2016

Rule 34: If it exists, or you can imagine it, there is porn of it. No exceptions.

Rule 34 summarizes everything about sexuality.

It says that human sexual fantasy is limitless. It says that anything can be eroticized, can be arousing, can be life-affirming. It reminds us that any ideas we have about what’s normal sex are about us, not about sex. I’m always telling patients “don’t blame sex for your ideas about sex.”

Rule 34 reminds us exactly what pornography is: a library of human eroticism. Pornography is a celebration of how humans can stretch their erotic imagination—sometimes in ways that disturb you or me. Nevertheless, pornography celebrates the erotic imagination BEYOND specific content. Like the ability to imagine the future, and the knowledge that we’re going to die, the enormous range of pornography is uniquely human.

Rule 34 also reminds us that people don’t necessarily want to do what they fantasize about. Sex with Kramer, George, & Jerry at the same time? Sex with a dolphin? Sex with someone about to be guillotined for stealing a loaf of bread? Sex with your grandmother at high noon on Times Square? A threesome with Batman & Robin?

Rule 34 also reminds us of the coin’s other side—that none of us can imagine the entire range of human eroticism. That should keep us humble. It’s somewhat like a gourmet travelling to a far-off, isolated country and discovering they eat something there he never considered food—say, fried worms. The issue isn’t so much does the gourmet want to eat fried worms; rather, it’s the idea that there’s “food” that he never considered food. And if that’s true about fried worms, about how many other “foods” might that also be true?

Rule 34 shows us all knit together in an erotic brotherhood (or sisterhood, if you will). If the human project of eroticism is bigger than both you and me, your turn-on and my turn-on that appear so different from each other are really small parts of a much bigger whole. And there are others who are into your turn-on (which I find so exotic), and there are others—perhaps many others—who think my turn-on is so very exotic.

Imagine travelling to another country whose customs may be unfamiliar. We go to Italy and see adults and children topless together on the same beach. We go to India and see cows on the street. We go to Vietnam and see old women doing manual labor on construction sites. We go to Denmark and see men and women nude in a sauna together. We go to Russia and learn we have to bribe taxi drivers with Marlboros if we want them to pick us up.

International travel teaches us about our own customs: when I return from a trip I’ve always learned something about the way WE do things, because I’ve been to a place where they don’t do that. I learn that my way isn’t the right way, it’s just my way. No matter how much I prefer it, no matter how much it’s right for me, it’s just my way, not the right way.

Rule 34 helps us understand that about sexuality. Your porn isn’t right, it’s just your porn. That goes for No Porn, and Gentle Porn, too: it isn’t right, it’s just your way. And that goes for our sexuality in general—our way isn’t the right way, it’s just our way. A good sexual relationship involves people whose respective ways mesh: one person expands their vocabulary, or both do, or one narrows theirs, or both do. As long as people can fit together with dignity and celebration (um, there’s MY values again), it doesn’t matter what they do.

Rule 34: everyone else is different from you. But governments, religions, and activists try to whitewash almost every kind of sexuality except the version they approve of. As biologist Mickey Diamond says, nature loves variety; unfortunately, society hates it.

Sexual Intelligence—My New Book is Published Today!

February 10, 2012

My new book is out from HarperCollins today. And people already love it!

“Read this book if you want to let go of your inhibitions and improve your sex life.” –Psychology Today magazine

“Transform your sex life? Ultimate satisfaction? Look no further. Marty Klein’s new book offers something better.” –Salon.com

“No matter where you are, if you want to get the most out of sex and relationships, there’s something here for you.” –Good Vibrations

Here are some of MY favorite quotes from the book. Buy the book here, and then let me know which is your favorite.

Sexual Intelligence: Quotable quotes

* For many people, sex is an opportunity to fail. And for some people, not failing is the best that sex ever gets.

* Feeling good (whatever that means to you and your partner) is the big payoff of sex—-not orgasm.

* Sexually, men and women are more alike than similar. They typically want the same things from sex, and are typically concerned about the same things.

* If sex is so important, why leave it for the last thing at night, when you’re too tired to do anything else?

* What do people say they want from sex? Pleasure and closeness. But that’s not what most people focus on during sex.

* Most people think the way to reduce anxiety or emotional problems around sex is to create incredible sex. That’s exactly wrong.

* Figuring out what kind of sex you want is not the same as knowing what you don’t want. That can be challenging when people are used to thinking in the vocabulary of sexual “dysfunction.”

* Adults (especially those with common health challenges) must redefine “sexy” to include someone—-themselves—-in a physical state that society specifically defines as unsexy.

* If you want to enjoy sex, stop looking for romance or spontaneity.

* Sex is meaningless until and unless we give it meaning. Most people give it too much meaning, and the wrong kind of meaning. Then they complain that sex is too complicated.

* We overburden our genitalia with too much responsibility for making sex enjoyable.

* One reason so many people drink before or during sex is that the pressure of getting it right is just too much.

* You’d be foolish to craft a definition of sexy or manly or womanly that excludes you.

* Most people develop their model of sexuality when they have the body of a young, healthy person. Most of us don’t have that body very long. So if we want to enjoy sex when we develop a different body, we better have a different model of sexuality.

Remember: Sex isn’t just an activity—it’s an idea.

Should Prison Inmates Have the Right to Masturbate?

January 16, 2012

I was interviewed about this on Public Radio yesterday. Since it’s a subject I hadn’t given a lot of thought, I prepared by reading up on it just a bit. And I was shocked.

It’s actually against the law to touch yourself sexually—in private—if you’re in jail. Sounds barbaric, doesn’t it? OK, you’re behind bars, your body is no longer your own. But if you’re not allowed to masturbate, neither is your soul.

Worse, if there’s any disagreement about whether you’ve done it, you automatically lose the argument. There are many cases in which guards either misinterpret prisoner activity and perceive masturbation, or some nutcase guard goes hunting and finds masturbation in every nook and cranny. Either way, prisoners are punished.

Of course, masturbation in prison is common. A 2001 study of one maximum-security joint found that all but one male inmate masturbated. Another study found that 2/3 of female inmates masturbated. Criminalizing something that everyone does makes selective enforcement inevitable. And there are documented cases of just that.

Prisons say they have to regulate masturbation because of security issues, which sounds completely bogus. It’s the same argument society makes when it restricts the sexual expression of any group, such as teens, soldiers, and the elderly. But prisons are trying to control sex, not safety.

A new wrinkle in the prison masturbation scene is the increasing number of female guards. Because women are more likely to lack a criminal record, more likely to have some college education, and can oversee and pat-down both male and female inmates (male guards must work primarily with male prisoners), their numbers are steadily increasing.

Presumably, the percentage of nutty female guards is roughly the same as that of nutty male guards. Presumably, the one female guard who busted eight different Florida inmates for masturbation four years ago is an anomaly.

But the increasing number of female guards raises the question of “hostile work environment” that is bedeviling every American organization—governmental or for-profit—with a lawyer. A legal doctrine and laws meant to protect women is now being used as a weapon to strip sexuality from every possible workplace interaction. To protect their delicate sensibilities (a myth that 1970s feminism worked tirelessly to challenge), women in cities across America are now claiming that classic nude sculpture, photo shows depicting childbirth, sex education brochures, and even co-workers’ tiny silver vulva earrings create a workplace in which they just can’t function.

So what we have now is some women wanting it both ways—equal rights, but with extra protection. If a person, male or female, can’t work within earshot of the word “fuck,” that person should probably not be a prison guard, bus driver, football coach, or high school teachers. And if Michaelangelo’s nude David makes someone swoon, he or she should have the decency to get some help, rather than deprive their co-workers from the world’s artistic patrimony.

I don’t imagine that prisoners treat female guards any worse than they treat male guards. The content of the disrespect, envy, and manipulation may differ, but the treatment is no worse. Of course, any given guard—male or female—can get unhinged by seeing or imagining a penis while they’re at work.

Finally, punishing guys for masturbating in prison is counterproductive. How do people feel after orgasm? Relaxed. Isn’t that preferable to prisoners feeling rageful? I’d say inmate masturbation is the jailer’s best friend.

Every guy in prison started masturbating as a child, and always for the same reason: to soothe himself. To comfort himself, to feel a sense of control in otherwise repressive circumstances. To validate his power and individuality.

These, too, are what we want in prisoner’s lives. Better than the rage and humiliation that dominate prison life, and the brutality that naturally follows from it. Putting hundreds or thousands of men together, robbing them of their most basic rights and dignity, and expecting them to respond by being asexual for 10 years is simply ridiculous. Giving prisoners the chance to privately comfort themselves psychologically is in everyone’s best interests. And giving prisoners a private, solo sexual outline would surely reduce the amount of coercive and dangerous sex that’s rampant in every prison.

It’s simply logical. But when it comes to sex, science isn’t a strong suit of the correctional industry—any more than in any institution in the outside world.

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Book Review: Vulva 101

January 4, 2012

Today I come to praise vulvas.

Vulvas in general, but especially the hundred and one featured in Hylton Coxwell’s new book. It’s gorgeous. They’re gorgeous.

The coffee table book is elegantly simple: it features 101 Canadian women, age 18-65, showing their vulvas close up in living color. We get the women just as they are. We see hair, we see stubble, we see smooth, bare skin. We see jewelry, tattoos, and even the wisp of a tampon string.

The variety of course, is astounding. For decades, we sex educators have been saying “vulvas are like noses—every woman has one, but each one is different—in size, shape, color.” Indeed, in these extreme close-ups every vulva is a landscape (vulvascape?) all its own: graceful peaks, abrupt valleys, graceful curves, contrasting textures, the random asymmetries of nature.

And the colors! The high-resolution photography yields every possible shade between ebony and bubble-gum: cranberry, wine, claret, maroon, nutmeg, fire engine, mauve, chocolate.

A review of this wonderful book would be incomplete without mention of its predecessors. In 2003 there was Petals (the book, followed in 2006 by the DVD, both of which won a Sexual Intelligence Award). Its black-and-white work was exquisite; the interviews with its models were even more eye-opening.

A decade before that (and, remember, before digital photography) was Femalia. The truly groundbreaking book edited by Joani Blank featured 32 full-page vulvas, all with lips spread. This little (6”x8”) gem has just been reissued, and is a perfect $15 Valentine’s Day gift.

“Vulva 101 is a great resource for anyone who wants to honor the female sex organ,” says educator and artist Betty Dodson. Indeed, our world would be a better place if every girl received a copy from her parents the day of her first period.

In fact, Vulva 101 is a great antidote for any woman considering labiaplasty to “correct” her “unattractive” genitalia. It’s also a great response to activists complaining that today’s porn, which shows primarily shaved or waxed vulva, is subtly training men to desire pre-pubescent girls. In these dozens of bare vulvas, no one could possibly say there’s a little girl among them.

With a tip of the historical hat to both Petals and Femalia, congratulations to Vulva 101. It’s the perfect confluence of art and sex–which makes it a work of political provocation. Both the subject and the provocation deserve celebration.

The book’s website is here.

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Top Moments of Sexual Intelligence, 2011

December 30, 2011

2011 was quite a year for Sexual Intelligence. Some 75 posts were viewed over 125,000 times.

The blog was also honored twice. It was named number 21 of the Top 100 Sexuality Blogs. And the post on the circumcision debate (Self-Hatred As Public Policy) was expanded and reprinted in the book Best Sex Writing 2012, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by Cleis Press.

What do you think of as the year’s most memorable moments of Sexual Intelligence? Here are my choices—some happy, some awful, all important.

5. Mississippi “Personhood” Amendment Fails
4. Stealth Federal Funding for Abstinence Ed
3. Newsweek Conflates Watching Porn, Prostitution, & Trafficking
2. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Ends
1. Teen Pregnancy, Sex Abuse, & Rape Decline in America

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Your Kid Looks At Porn. Now What?

December 23, 2011

I was recently interviewed by internet safety expert Dr. Larry Magid for a piece on kids looking at porn. We had such an interesting conversation I thought I’d write about this myself.

Of course, 700 words can’t possibly cover every aspect of this issue. But let’s begin.

Given the typical danger-oriented media coverage of pornography, it’s easy for parents to feel terribly anxious about this issue. To listen to Newsweek or “morality” groups, you’d think that every American boy is in danger of becoming a porn addict—an obsessive, aggressive loser who hates women, and eventually destroys himself.

So let’s all take a deep breath and calm down.

Here’s what we know: All children are sexual. That means they have sexual feelings and thoughts. Naturally, six-year-olds don’t think about intercourse, and thirteen-year-olds can’t imagine the subtleties of mutual arousal and satisfaction. But every human is born a sexual being. How parents deal with their feelings about their children’s sexuality will shape how they feel about, and what they do about, their kid looking at porn.

So how do you, Mom or Dad, feel about your kid masturbating? That is, after all, why he or she looks at porn more than once or twice. If you can’t handle that, the kid’s use of porn will of course be unacceptable—but beside the point. Whether it’s about kids’ use or adults’ use, too many conversations about whether porn is harmful to users or society is really about the unacceptability of masturbation. If that’s your position, be honest and say “I don’t want my kid masturbating to porn because I don’t want my kid masturbating.”

Even parents who accept the reality that their kids are sexual and masturbate can be concerned about porn. What if it’s violent? What if it encourages values of which I disapprove? What if it’s confusing?

The answer to all three questions is: it might.

The porn your kid watches might be violent—but it probably isn’t. Most porn isn’t—for the simple reason that there’s a limited market for that.

The porn your kid watches might encourage values of which you disapprove—but it probably doesn’t. Most porn shows men and women as partners, wanting pleasure and wanting to give pleasure. Porn isn’t a love story, so if you disapprove of people having sex before marriage, you may object to your kid watching almost any sexual depiction, whether it’s porn or Desperate Housewives.

But if your kid watches porn, he or she might easily get confused: Is that what sex is really like? Is that what most people look like naked? Do strangers really have sex together so easily? Are some people really rough with each other in bed? (This is where you explain that just as kids play games on the ballfield, pretending to be mean or brave when they really aren’t, some adults play games in bed, pretending to be bossy or submissive when they really aren’t.)

Questions like these deserve answers. And if you remember your childhood—before the internet—you know that kids develop questions (and confusion) about sex even without porn. After all, you did.

The response to “my kid’s watching porn, what do I do?” is—you talk about it. You ask lots of gentle questions. Your kid squirms. You explain stuff. You squirm. No one’s comfortable talking about this. You talk anyway. That’s what parents do—they talk about subjects even when they’re uncomfortable.

Just like kids need media literacy, kids need porn literacy. They need to understand that they’re watching actors playing roles, not documentaries. They need to understand that just as Glee and Harry Potter are edited, so are porn films. None of these media products is an accurate portrayal of real life. For example, porn usually omits two crucial parts of sex—the feelings and the talking.

All of this argues for a pre-existing parent-child relationship, doesn’t it? No one wants their first parent-child conversation about sex to be about porn.

So make 2012 the year you raise the subject of sexuality with each of your kids. Both you and they will benefit. And if at some point you need to discuss porn with them, you’ll already be in the middle of a loving, long-term dialogue.

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The Morning After: Screwed By Obama

December 9, 2011

President Obama has joined President Bush in opposing the widest possible access for Emergency Contraception (Plan B). And he’s done it for the two worst possible reasons: emotion and “common sense.”

After years and years of dishonest stalling, the FDA has finally recommended that minors get complete over-the-counter access to Plan B. In a rare move, the HHS Secretary overruled the FDA’s decision. The President says he supports Secretary Sebelius’ decision, “as the father of two young daughters…we [should] apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”

This is anti-science doubletalk.

During the dark Bush years, the federal government stalled the availability of this miracle drug for adults, which was already being used safely in Europe. The objections have generally coming from the religious community, “decency” crowd, and those who pretend to want a smaller role for government. After they exhaust their morality pitch, they simply lie. They say Plan B is an abortion drug (it isn’t), and that it will promote “promiscuity” because it lowers the perceived cost of reckless sex (data from both Europe and the US show it doesn’t).

The terror of “promiscuity” is the same argument used against the HPV vaccine, legal abortion, condom distribution in schools, contraceptive insurance coverage, and every other public policy measure designed to make sex safer or more enjoyable. This terror deserves sympathy and psychotherapy, not public policy consideration.

Some argue that young teens can’t be trusted to use Plan B properly. That’s undoubtedly true for some of them. But we let them have access to a lot of things in the drug store that they might not use properly: tampons, razor blades, ipecac. And there’s nothing they can do with Plan B that will be as dangerous and life-damaging as carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, much less getting an illegal abortion.

Every sexually active fertile person, regardless of age, should have Emergency Contraception in their medicine cabinet. It’s for an emergency, get it? At $50 a throw, I don’t imagine a lot of 12-year-olds buying it for a thrill—or by accident.

Mr. President, when you were elected you promised us science and rationality. I don’t want you making public decisions as a father, a husband, a Hawaiian, or a basketball fan. I want science from you and your administration. Save your “common sense” for the dinner table. And if you have any, make sure your kids understand Plan B.

And just to remind you: the most dangerous thing the average 13-year-old does is ride a bike while talking on a cell phone. You might want to talk to Malia about that, too.

A Word About Brazilian Women

December 3, 2011

I’ve now been in Brazil for over a week. And after blogging (with photos) every day about history, culture, architecture, or nature, it’s time to mention the women.

Everyone knows they’re gorgeous, so let me say a little more than that.

For starters, Brazilians are a mix of three races: the indigenous Indians, European settlers, and African slaves. Over the last five centuries, the three races have blended continuously. Compared with the U.S. and other societies, there have been relatively few taboos about race-mixing, a process that only accelerated when slavery ended in 1888. Mixing races produces unique and therefore exotic-looking combinations of features. One is instinctively drawn to the mystery of miscegenation. And nobody here seems embarrassed or apologetic about it.

In fact, Brazil’s self-described founding national myth sits atop race mixing, and thus sexuality is embedded in the national DNA. Brazilians frankly describe their national character as both sensual and sexual, often contrasting it with their neighbors’. So neither the women nor the men here feel terribly compelled to feign less interest in sex than they actually have. This makes people pretty damn attractive.

Second, Brazilians breathe music and dance. Watching Carnival rehearsals up north in Olinda was spell-binding; the women move parts of their bodies that I didn’t realize could move in quite that way. They dance with their shoulders, their necks, their hips, followed by their feet. Their torso practically comes along for the ride. I’m certain I wasn’t the only observer reminded of sex.

And even more amazing was watching the six-year-olds samba. Ah, so that’s how adults are able to move like they do—they’ve been doing it since they were six. And while the kids’ movements were sensual and their costumes an echo of their sexy older sisters’, their dance scenes had integrity, an organic logic light years away from the phony tarting-up of the child “beauty” pageants in America. These Brazilian children were being themselves, faces beaming, enjoying their bodies.

It was almost too intimate to watch—and far too life-affirming to turn away from. So I watched. I was intrigued by my own hesitation to appreciate children’s bodies in a way that was, here in Brazil, culturally approved and wholesome.

Another compelling feature of Brazilian women is that when it comes to dancing, everyone is eligible. No woman is too large to participate, and when they do, they shake whatever they have. Often, that’s a considerable amount of shaking, and no one scolds them or turns away. Bodies are bodies, and in Brazil, bodies are good.

In fact, the large women in Brazil dress exactly the way their thinner sisters do: skimpy, tight, and colorful. There’s even a style of tank top that deliberately exposes the belly, inviting it to hang over their short shorts. In America most women would be horrified to expose what we delicately call “rolls of fat.” In Brazil that same flesh is called, um, flesh, and it’s not seen as a moral failing or aesthetic calamity. It’s part of a woman’s body, and they apparently don’t feel the desperate need to cover or disguise it. If it’s a woman’s body, there are plenty of men to celebrate it. As a result, there are Brazilian women of every size preening. And that’s attractive regardless of how a woman is constructed.

And did I mention that the Brazilian women are gorgeous?

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Giving Thanks: Teen Pregnancy, Sex Abuse, Rape All Decline

November 24, 2011

Mandatory disclaimer: Sex abuse is gruesome, rape is horrifying, unintended teen pregnancy destroys lives. One single case of any of these is way, way too much.

Now to the science: there’s been a dramatic drop in child sex abuse and rape for several years. And while these two crimes are obviously under-reported, there’s no reason to think they’re more under-reported today than 10 years ago. If anything, the reverse is true.

Teen pregnancy has also decreased dramatically. And although teen marriage is far more common in some American subcultures than others, the decline in teen pregnancy has occurred in every kind of group—racial, ethnic, income, educational.

Nevertheless, the media, fundraising appeals, politicians, and conservative (and some feminist) doomsayers cry endlessly of dysfunctional epidemics, of out of control behavior, and of our country’s very fabric being destroyed by sexual violence and compulsivity.

(Pornography is often cited as the “cause” of these non-existent epidemics. Claims that these social pathologies are getting worse are then used as proof that pornography is dangerous and must be controlled or eliminated. But let’s not digress.)

So since it’s Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks. There’s little enough to cheer about in our battered republic these days, and this is legitimately good news, fantastic news.

And while giving thanks, let’s note:
1. America should be cheering the apparent success of various programs that tackled these three problems. Increased awareness, empowerment of the less powerful, and other interventions may actually be working. Those working with children are subject to more background checks; women are more assertive about their boundaries; teens are using more contraception, starting sex later, and having fewer partners.

Instead of talking about how nothing works and problems keep getting worse, let’s build “things can and do change” into our national story. And let’s demand that more resources go toward maintaining those changes, possibly helping people rather than giving in to our culture-wide despair.

2. We should be very curious about why so many people are claiming that things are getting worse and worse when the data shows that they’re getting better. This phenomenon is killing our country, and we should examine it as carefully as drunk driving, cancer clusters, high school dropout rates, and similar dangerous trends.

3. Why are we so eager to embrace the demonstrably false myths about socio-sexual pathologies getting worse and worse? Why do we resist the good news about a drop in sexual violence or childhood exploitation?

Sexuality seems to be a magnet for this kind of mass delusion. Look, for example, at teen sexting. As online safety expert Dr. Larry Magid says, there’s an epidemic of good decision-making about sexting—practically no kids do it. “It’s important to acknowledge that NOT sexting is “normal,” he says. Otherwise, we’re practically begging kids to join the “everyone’s doing it” mentality, turning a false perception into an accurate one.

An article like this inevitably receives a flood of hate mail, angry that I “don’t take these problems seriously.” To which I sigh, “please see this post’s first and last sentence.” But the question is, why must taking a problem seriously require either cooking or ignoring the facts? Why is cheering the improvement of a problem perceived as trivializing it?

We who care about social problems like sexual assault and sexual abuse should be working overtime figuring out exactly how these decreases occurred, so we can promote and enhance them (they may actually have little to do with programs or interventions). And we should be studying what perversity in human (or American) nature makes people insist that things are worse than they are, ignoring documentation of the very changes our hearts desire.

And now I’ll repeat sentence number one: Any amount of sexual violence or teen pregnancy is a bad amount. But some bad amounts are bigger—i.e., worse—than others. Exaggerating how terrible things are in order to generate attention or create more funding (or to prove piety—that one really, really cares) isn’t just bad policy. It’s immoral.

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